Olympic swimming started with the first modern Summer Olympic Games in 1896 in Athens. The few events contested at those Games, and the ones that followed through 1908, only admitted men to the swimming pool.
Women first participated in Olympic swimming in 1912 in Stockholm with Australian Fanny Durack taking the initial women's gold in the 100-meter freestyle. Events were gradually added for women from 1920 and the skill of the competitors improved considerably.
The following includes brief looks at five of the best women in Olympic swimming before World War II:
Ethelda Bleibtrey: Bleibtrey was the first American woman to win an Olympic swimming gold, doing so in 1920. She won the 100-meter and 300-meter freestyle events, as well as leading the U.S. women's 4X100 meter freestyle relay to victory. She was a true pioneer in women's sports, but took up swimming only in 1918 after a bout with polio. She was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame(ISHOF) in 1967.
Marie Braun: Braun was a great Dutch swimmer from the late 1920s through the early years of the next decade. Demonstrating her versatility, she earned the gold in the 100-meter backstroke and the silver in the 400-meter freestyle in 1928. She set six world records in her dominant career and was honored with a place in the ISHOF in 1980.
Helene Madison: Madison was an American star at the 1932 Games in Los Angeles, defeating all challengers in the 100-meter freestyle, 400-meter freestyle, and as a member of the 4X100 meter freestyle relay. She was a remarkably successful swimmer in the early 1930s, holding world records in various strokes and distances a total of 16 times.
Rie Mastenbroek: Mastenbroek was another of the top Dutch swimmers of the time. Mastenbroek(pictured) was the most successful athlete at the 1936 Games in Berlin after the American track star, Jesse Owens. She won three freestyle golds and the silver in the 100-meter backstroke. Her brief career produced nine world records, primarily in the backstroke. She was inducted into the ISHOF in 1968.
Hideko Maehata: Maehata was Japan's first female swimming star in the 1930s, at a time when her countrymen were having tremendous success in all international swimming competitions, including the Olympics. Maehata won the silver in the 200-meter breaststroke in 1932 and improved to a gold-medal finish four years later in Berlin. She was inducted into the ISHOF in 1979.